OF ALL THE PARABLES JESUS TOLD, this short one has meant more to me than any other: "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it" (Matt. 13:45, 46). At the time, pearls were an article of commerce and, therefore, valuable. A merchant might travel as far as the Persian Gulf or India in search of the finest pearls (see The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 7, p. 420).
Today, how far are we willing to go in order to find and keep a most precious "pearl"? Are we willing to sell everything we have once we find it? And what, exactly, does that pearl typify?
In answer to this last question, many of the people Jesus came across as he preached the gospel appeared to be victims of sickness, debility, sin, and all of the other pitfalls of mortality. Jesus, who perceived thought, understood that each, in his or her own way, had bought into the erroneous concept that man is born into matter, and, ultimately, dies out of it. The Master Christian, who had great compassion for those who were sick, taught them, and all who followed him, that man has an indestructible, spiritual identity, and that God is perfect and we all have the privilege of reflecting and expressing that spiritual perfection. This was a transforming message, directly from God, to those whom Jesus healed and saved. It was the Christ, the "pearl of great price," that Jesus sacrificed everything for on our behalf. He so fully expressed the Christ, his divine nature, that he was able to heal spiritually, drawing entirely on the power and law of God.
This same Christ speaks to us today with the healing truths that meet our specific needs, revealing to us health, justice, goodness, mercy — the kingdom of heaven here on earth. In response to our prayers, the Christ makes known to us God's wonderful nature and His spiritual creation—at one, and entirely good and safe.
Such a valuable pearl of Truth is what Jesus encouraged his disciples to give up everything for — family, wealth, material security — in order to buy it. He probably wouldn't have bothered to tell his most loyal disciples the parable of the pearl, if he hadn't believed they were ready to hear its message and follow through. Here comes the million-dollar question. Are we? When we recognize the value of the pearl of Christ, are we willing to "sell" everything to retain it? Everything! To give up the old, comfortable material ways of thinking, the fears, the habitual worries, the resentments and self-justification that must be gotten rid of in exchange for the joys of the new, spiritual views that Christ reveals.
That can be easier said than done. Not long ago, I heard a story that hints at the resistance we might face (but have the spiritual tools to overcome) when we decide to sell all for Christ. There was a little girl whose father would put her to bed each evening. This father loved his daughter so much. The little girl loved her father, too, and also loved very much a plastic necklace of pearls that she wore constantly.
One night, as he was putting her to bed, he asked if he could have those pearls. "But daddy," she answered, "I just love these pearls! I'm sorry, I want to keep them." The following night, as she was settling down to sleep, he asked her for them once more. "No, daddy, I love them."
Two weeks went by and each night, as he put her to bed, the father would ask for the pearls. Finally, one night, he came into his daughter's room to put her to bed. He saw her there with her head on her pillow and there were tears streaming down her face. Through her sobs, she said, "Here, take the pearls. You can have them." He took those toy pearls and put them into one of his pockets. Then he reached into his other pocket and took out a velvet, rectangular box. He handed it to her, and inside was a most beautiful necklace of real, very valuable pearls. He told her that every night, since the time he'd first asked her for her plastic pearls, he had carried this gift of genuine pearls.
Our Father Mother has a gift for each of us far more valuable than any set of pearls on earth. Even so, we may find ourselves hugging our worthless set of plastic pearls and not wanting to give them up. Today they are aggressively marketed to us as the real thing and highly desirable. We see them everywhere — the obsession with accumulating material possessions, the tendency to look for love and self-worth in drugs, and a determination to prove people wrong, or to get revenge.
Whatever their guise, we will eventually give them up. In fact, we don't have a choice. God loves us too much to allow us to forever hold on to whatever is false. In her primary work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy observed, "Truth will at length compel us all to exchange the pleasures and pains of sense for the joys of Soul" (p. 390).
I love to ask myself after praying and hearing God's answer to me, "Am I ready to make the exchange? God has blessed me with a fresh view of myself that I know can heal and fully satisfy me, so am I ready to sell my old 'pearls,' my old beliefs and fears, which may seem deceptively attractive and familiar?" Over and over, I have experienced that to do so is to walk forward on the path to healing. When we allow our thoughts and feelings to be transformed by God, every single aspect of our life is blessed.
After praying many years about a painful deformation, I remember the night I found the "pearl of great price." As I quietly prayed again to God, listening, and being receptive to His answer, God revealed to me my spiritual, perfect nature as His expression. With great patience, God had handed me this pearl so many times before. This night, however, I sold all that I had for it. I stopped mentally rehearsing the suffering predicted as a result of this physical condition; I released forever from thought the ugly picture of disease; and I totally rejected the habitual view of myself as created by mankind. The most precious pearl, the spiritual understanding that all of these years I'd always been the reflection of God, including only perfection, was all that I now owned. Within three days I was healed permanently of the deformity.
Our Father-Mother has a gift for each of us far more valuable than any set of pearls on earth.
"The relinquishment of error deprives material sense of its false claims," explained Mrs. Eddy (Science and Health, p. 7). Just as the little girl was finally able to relinquish her plastic pearls, we are able to give up our out-worn beliefs and deep-set fears that would feed rather than deprive material sense of its claim to power and influence over our lives. Let the power of God, the only power, take them from us. "Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling," the Bible says (Isa. 51:22). It feels great to sell our old pearls in exchange for the single most precious pearl—the knowledge that we are at one with God and that all the good that He has is ours.
In the words of Paul, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift" (II Cor. 9:15).
Mark Swinney is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher who lives and teaches in the Albuquerque, New Mexico, area.